Special Report: Walkable Streets

Over 15,000 Hamilton Motorists Ran Red Lights in 2013

I suppose all those self-described drivers who say cyclists shouldn't be allowed on the roads because they roll through stop signs will hang their heads in shame.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published May 21, 2014

The Spectator reports that 15,569 motorists were caught on just 12 intersection cameras running red lights in Hamilton in 2013.

I suppose all those self-described drivers who say cyclists shouldn't be allowed on the roads because they roll through stop signs will hang their heads in shame.

And those who blame pedestrians for getting killed or injured at intersections will be positively appalled at their lack of knowledge of how drivers measurably behave at intersections.

I couldn't imagine anyone will try to make excuses for such dangerous law-breaking, or actually complain that they were caught.

After all, we all know that motorists - unlike cyclists and pedestrians - have huge respect for the Highway Traffic Act and are always careful to avoid knowingly breaking the law.

All sarcasm aside, I was shocked at the magnitude of the problem: over 15,000 drivers actually caught running red lights in a city of 500,000 in a single year when there are only 12 cameras!

Of course people are calling this a "cash grab", but there is a very simple solution to avoid paying the ticket: don't break the law - especially in this particularly dangerous way. Surely almost everyone understands that the fine is part of the deterrent.

And the fact that the vast majority of pedestrian injuries and deaths (as well as motor vehicle collisions) are at intersections should make it obvious why running red lights is so dangerous, and why red light cameras make sense.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By Isabella (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 13:39:10

I am NOT shocked by the magnitude. Not at all. Crossing the streets in Hamilton is an extreme sport if you're a pedestrian. I have watched many a driver race through a red at Main and Dundurn and King and Dundurn. The light at Dundurn and Main is fraught with peril as well due to the fact that the walk signal coincides with a solid green turn signal after a flashing green (really should turn to yellow). I have had the back of my legs clipped by cars turning while the pedestrian cross signal (walking man) is on. I have seen seniors nearly hit and baby strollers yanked out of the way of cars whose only agenda is to beat the oncoming traffic through the intersection. Crossing the streets in Hamilton is an extreme sport if you're a pedestrian.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 13:48:34

Yes but were they wearing their helmets?

Kidding aside, I assume the increase since 2009, from 7900 to 15000, is due to more cameras, rather than an actual doubling of red light runners. Still astonishing. That's an average of 41 per day, and that's only what's photographed.

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By ianreynolds (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:19:16

I agree that crossing the streets in this city is a nightmare. I also believe that drivers licenses should be a lot easier to take away.

However, many signs point to red light cameras increasing accidents at those intersections. http://www.techdirt.com/blog/?tag=red+li... I've seen dozens of studies linked from the national motorists association, as well, but frankly who wouldn't expect them to say that?

At King and Dundurn last winter, my girlfriend got one because there was some ice on the road and she slowed down as the light turned yellow, coming to a stop a foot or so over the stop line. This was at King and Dundurn. Two weeks later in our mailbox is a ticket for 375 dollars saying she ran the red light. Her choices were pay it immediately, or fight it in court and lose time off of work. If she fought it in court and lost, they would "inform her insurance company which would raise her rates." Is that not literal blackmail/extortion? If you don't do this, we'll tell on you?

This all happened due to our vehicle, parked at the intersection, sliding a bit over the stop line. This is while we both drive reasonable speeds simply because we're so tired of people in cars doing dumb things. That's almost a full week's pay.

This is no way an attempt to be "boo hoo drivers are criminalized", because by and large many of us are terrible. It's simply managed incredibly poorly.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:30:06

No automated system is perfect, and it is somewhat troubling that red light cameras take away the "good judgement" part of enforcement. But given the massive scale of the problem, it is better to automate enforcement of such a widely flouted law (especially as the consequences of breaking it can be deadly).

It is also worth remembering that legally you are not supposed enter the intersection when the light is amber (let alone red) unless it would be unsafe to stop.

"What to do when the light turns yellow? The answer is simple: STOP. According to the law, every driver has to stop at a yellow light unless he or she is too close to the intersection to stop safely." Note that "not being able to stop safely" is not the same as "I bet I can get through before it turns red".

http://www.driversedguru.com/driving-art...

Too many drivers treat an amber light as "I better accelerate".

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-05-21 14:32:39

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:38:45

The absence of countdown clocks on these high-risk crosswalks, combined with the presence of red light cameras, can lead to situations where, in the face of a potential $375 ticket, you can choose between slamming on the brakes or accelerating through a sudden yellow.

King and Dundurn seems notable on this count, especially during afternoon rush when drivers are looking into the sun. The new installation on the Westdale High corner of Main and Longwood, just after a blind corner, is another gem (apparently drivers on the other three faces of the intersection pose no threat to students). It's hard to square installations like these with the purported aim of enhanced public safety.

To be sure, this is not to apologize for the city's car culture or those who break the law, merely to point out that even drivers are ill-served by Hamilton's traffic engineering.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:48:20 in reply to Comment 101461

I was told that red light cameras were supposed to have a delay/buffer before they go hot, in order to let people clear the intersection on amber. It is supposed to make the system catch only true red light runners. Is that not the case? It is counterproductive and dangerous if they are overly sensitive. Especially if they are making people brake hard on wet pavement. It would also make these stats look worse than they are. I hate it when an amber light changes in that 'indecision zone' where you have milliseconds to decide whether to stop or not. Under normal calm driving, it's pretty rare, but I think everyone hates it when that happens!

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:55:10

Big deal. I saw a cyclist slowly roll through a stop sign last night with nobody around!!! No wonder our streets aren't safe anymore!!!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 14:59:06 in reply to Comment 101464

Yes, that is the case: motorists already in the intersection when the light turns red are NOT ticketed:

"7. What if I am making a left turn and the light turns red when my vehicle is still in the intersection? Motorists already in an intersection when the signal changes to red (when waiting to turn, for example) are not red light runners. "

http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/P...

You must enter the intersection when the light is already red to receive the ticket. Maybe this needs to be more widely publicized, but there is no reason to accelerate in the intersection to beat the light.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-05-21 14:59:29

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By Red-Light (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 15:48:47

Please put red light cameras everywhere! And STOP reducing tickets, what do motorists learn when their tickets are always reduced. Majors become minors and no effect on insurance.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 16:54:17 in reply to Comment 101463

You realize that countdown timers at intersections are there for the benefit of pedestrians right? They aren't there so motorists can try and catch a glimpse to know how long they have before "a sudden yellow" (which is a laugh on King at Dundurn given the synchronized signals on King).

As for Main at Longwood westbound, given that this leg is coming off a one-way freeway style transition to two-way, I'm not surprised there are more frequent red-light runners.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 17:13:48 in reply to Comment 101460

Also, it is often part of the contract between the light operators and the municipality that yellow light times be reduced. This actually "generates" more red light running. From a pure safety standpoint the best thing a city can do to reduce red light running is to lengthen the yellows. I have measured the yellows downtown and they are 3.3 seconds at every intersection, which I believe is the provincially mandated minimum. So I wonder if this is due to the red light camera contract. It is also independent of intersection size, which makes no sense as it takes more time to clear larger intersections. Yellows on the mountain are not all equivalent length. Do we have cameras up there?

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 17:47:11 in reply to Comment 101476

To be clear, I'm not a driver, but as a passenger I suspect that the count gives drivers (car/cab/bus) an additional warning that the light is about to change, allowing them to brake in a more measured way. But my experience is admittedly anecdotal. I ahve not had a chance to review the calibration schedules.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 17:48:51 in reply to Comment 101486

In any event, it's a shame that at high-volume, consistently maligned intersections like Main/King and Dundurn a LOOK RIGHT message is considered the apex of pedestrian safety. If countdown clocks are viewed as too driver friendly, then by all means abolish them, but I find it hard to believe that the city can't improve these intersections. If it's dangerous enough to warrant a red light camera, maybe investing in pedestrian safety measures can be rationalized as well.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 18:52:41

now we know why the police chief was complaining about King St traffic being slower with the bus lane. Perhaps it's in their best interest to keep everyone speeding along, wracking up the tickets.

Stupid me, I would have thought public safety would be a higher priority for a police service.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 18:58:37 in reply to Comment 101481

Four cameras on the mountain- Upper Wentworth & Stone Church, Upper James & Brantdale, Mud & Paramount and Upper Sherman & Queensdale.

In regards to the yellow timings, you're correct that all the downtown ones are 3.3 seconds (technically 3.27) based off of OTM Book 12 timings. The intersection sizing would impact the all-red phase to allow all vehicles who may enter to leave before the next phase starts. Under red-light cameras these people would be "caught" but the all-red is meant is the best fail-safe we have to ensure an intersection is cleared before other movements start.

In terms of yellow on the Mountains, those would be impacted on streets where the speed is >80km/h so the reaction time component is increased.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 20:16:30 in reply to Comment 101462

As if on cue, Smart Growth America does a tally of its own. Of the Top 25 cities ranked by pedestrian danger index, the Washington Post's Emily Badger writes:

"The majority of the metros on this list are in the South or Southwest. What they have in common, though, isn't necessarily climate; it's car-dependence. Nearly all of these cities have grown up in the age of the automobile, at a post-World War II time when we focused less on designing places for pedestrians because society had broadly acquired the luxury of driving instead.

Contrast these cities with Boston (ranked 50th out of the 50 largest metros), New York (48th), Chicago (44th) or even Washington (35th), more compact, older cities that were first plotted and built in the 19th century, or even earlier. Those cities -- although they've long since sprawled at their edges, as well -- are more likely to have smaller blocks, tight street grids and narrower roads originally meant for people on foot or slower traffic (by, well, horse). Urban planners tend to talk about these places as being more "human-scaled" precisely because they were built with pedestrians rather than cars in mind.

It's no wonder in the 21st century that these places remain friendlier to pedestrians (even as, in a city like New York where fewer people drive and more of them walk, pedestrians make up a higher share of all traffic deaths). The challenge now is how to layer pedestrian-friendly infrastructure on top of those places that weren't originally built for them, whether that's in the suburbs of Washington or the heart of Orlando."


washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/05/21/why-southern-cities-are-so-much-more-dangerous-for-pedestrians/

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 20:55:15 in reply to Comment 101495

Designing to the absolute minimum as usual ;-)

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 21:53:02

Actually the number is way higher. The number of tickets was 15,000. The big difference in the offense between cars and cyclists is how and when the red light infraction occurs. In the overwhelming majority of cars running the red light it happens just as the light turns red, within a second or three. Almost always in that small window of time when both lights are red, well before the opposing light turns green. Some intersections are timed in such a way that it is very difficult to stop in time if the light catches the driver at just the right time.

Cyclists run the red light at any time of the cycle. When you're least expecting someone to be stupid enough to enter the intersection from the red lighted direction. Just like running a stop signs happens all the time by both cars and cycles. Typically a car approaches the stop sign, slows down usually to a crawl, checks for traffic and proceeds to go through the intersection and if clear with out coming to a complete stop. Yes it's illegal but it happens thousands of times a day. Cyclists very often run stop signs with out any significant reduction of speed. I live near McMaster and there are a significant number of bikes in the neigbourhood and I see it all the time. The one that really bothers me however is the morons who ride their bikes on the sidewalks, where there are bicycle lanes. But I guess we all have pet peeves.

It's not just that cyclists run lights and signs it's how they do it. Slowing a car down to 3 or 4 KPH and "running" red light is far removed from ignoring a light altogether. I believe this total disregard for the rules of the road is what irks drivers.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 22:11:04 in reply to Comment 101505

Ya, I've noticed that all red-light running cars slow down to 4kpm before they run the red. LOL

You're right on one thing though - the number of red light runners is WAY higher than 15,000. These are only the ones who enter the intersection AFTER the light is red. Yes, AFTER (at 4kph according to you). There are probably 15,000 more who run the red but just barely get into the intersection before the cameras catch them.

But yea, those darn cyclists rolling through stop signs with nobody around is the real public danger. Let's get on that.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 22:42:45 in reply to Comment 101505

In the case of blowing stop signs as a matter of course, you are right, it is irksome. I actually support "Idaho stop" at 4 way stops, and usually roll through when nobody is there, having slowed and looked of course. Everybody rolls through if there is nobody else to stop for, so we can overlook that, since everyone does on cars and bikes.

If other vehicles or people are using the intersection we must follow the rules all the time, in order to be predictable. That means you stop! Even though I think we should have more yields and roundabouts (everyone rolling through stop signs is actually a symptom of that) and fewer stops littering every corner, you do have to do what other people are expecting you to do, so, having stop signs, they do need to be used correctly.

The first week I'm back on the bike, after my knee injury this winter, I come to a 4 way stop one day. Other cars are present, and we all stop and take our turns. I go when it's my turn - another girl blows through the stop sign on her bike and almost crashes into me. Yells sorry over her shoulder as she pedals away. I didn't appreciate it. But us bikes can stop on a dime (when paying attention :) so no harm was done.

And then so many drivers wave me through when it's not my turn. So interactions at an intersection do have awkward moments where for a few seconds nobody knows what anyone else will do. So I do advocate for cyclists being responsible in order not to make things more difficult.

However, running a red light is a whole different ball game, very serious, totally kills people. If a car runs a red light, they will kill someone. If a bike runs a red light, they will get killed. The seriousness is supposed to be why those cameras go up as deterrents.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-05-21 22:54:24

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 23:29:41

I've received one of those tickets at Main and Dundurn. To be fair, there's a lot going on at that intersection, with traffic from the highway trying to head south on Dundurn, while traffic from Main is trying to head north. Changing lanes involves a whole lot of blind-spot checking. Prayer helps, too. I've little doubt I was avoiding an accident at the moment I blew through the light 0.2 seconds after it had gone red. In the rain, I might add. Really, that intersection needs a far better solution than red-light cameras. It's by far the worst part of my daily commute.

It does bear mentioning that the stats are likely far, far worse than the reality. As noted, my ticket was for entering the intersection 0.2 seconds after it had gone red. This would be long before anything else had gone green (in fact, it's very likely I would have cleared the intersection before that change). And as others have mentioned, the cameras do not take into account things like weather and road conditions, and the lights do not take into account intersection size. With a system weighted against the driver, it's not really surprising how high the red-light ticket count has risen.

Far more interesting to me would be to see a plot of the exact amount of time by which the guilty driver blew the red.

I will say this, though. After paying a $325 fine, I make damn sure I'm going to clear the intersection before it goes red. The countdown clocks go a long way in helping that, and IMHO are a huge benefit to drivers in judging whether they'll make it through.

Until that OTHER time, when I accelerated to clear a light with a countdown clock, only to wind up with a (minor) speeding ticket. Doh.

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By biggest double standard of all time (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2014 at 23:49:16 in reply to Comment 101505

"Yes it's illegal but it happens thousands of times a day."

LOLOGIC at its finest

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 00:27:45 in reply to Comment 101503

Why waste people's time if there's no need to? It just makes cyclists, pedestrians, transit users and motorists wait longer with little to no benefit.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 08:30:38 in reply to Comment 101476

Countdown timers are to the benefit of people on foot, but part of that benefit arises from the information they give to motorists, too. I agree with you about the notion of “sudden yellows.”

Part of the reason that countdown timers reduce accidents is because motorists can see from a distance exactly when a yellow is going to happen, and adjust their speed downward accordingly long before the intersection. This is documented, or at least I’ve read it.

Good drivers probably observe crossing signals for people on foot, and try to use that information to see whether they should start decelerating in anticipation of a red, but the timing of when the ‘red hand’ starts seems to me to be very inconsistent across intersections.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 11:04:04

At $100K per install, a red light camera pays for itself after around 308 $325 tickets -- which is apparently about a week in the worst locations.

hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/PublicWorks/CommunityServicesRelatedPoliciesAndGuidelines/RoadsTrafficRedLightCamerasFAQ.htm

How such offences might drop as cameras become more widely deployed is an unknown. But at worst they can double as poster kiosks.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 16:18:03 in reply to Comment 101495

Upper Gage & Mohawk as well.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 16:19:47 in reply to Comment 101460

that's only 0.0028% of the population.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 22, 2014 at 17:42:06

Actually, it is 0.0079% of the total population (41/520000*100). But since you seem to like very rough calculations ... let's try to estimate the total rate of red light runners in the City (which is the figure you seem to be after).

But obviously not everyone is a driver: the number of vehicles per capita in Hamilton is 0.62 (relatively high for Ontario), so the percentage of total vehicles caught running red lights each day is 0.0127%. Typically, the red light cameras only look at one direction, so we can multiply this figure by two, giving 0.0254%.

Now, Hamilton has over 300 signalized intersections (i.e. those major enough to require traffic lights), so we can give a lower bound on the percentage of drivers running red lights each day as 300/12*0.0254% = 0.63%.

The actual percentage is much higher because Hamilton has far more than the 300 signalized intersections analyzed for 1983-1986 in this study http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12067... and not every car is driven every day.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-05-22 17:55:54

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2014 at 15:09:34

Oh my so many comments on red-lights! 1. kevlahan raises good points about taking that 15,000 and putting some perspective on it. Is it a big number - yep! Can that number be made to look miniscule compared to the amount of trips X motorists X camera operated intersections / per day? Yep. A more interesting question would be: Are Hamilton area motorists getting more aggressive or less aggressive? This 15,000 number makes no comment on that.

  1. Another interesting comparison would be look at cyclist data (if there is any). They are a smaller and more vulnerable participant in our roadways but, as an intellectual exercise, can we ask if cyclists are obeying the traffic standards on par with motorists? The little data out there will probably say at least yes. Of course, cameras, ride programs and traffic enforcement is focused on (rightly) the most prevalent and dangerous users (motorists). We will just have to rely on anecdotal evidence. So, for every story of a motorist running a red light I will just say there is a story of a courier jumping lanes, splitting lanes, riding on the sidewalk and not stopping at intersections.

  2. Wow, there is a lot of misinformation out there about red-light cameras. Yes, they do take automatic pictures but, there is a human that looks at that picture and makes the final decision. Yes, you will be ticketed but since it is a picture, they don't know who is driving hence why insurance and demerit points are not brought in until you fight it. Check out the City of Hamilton website for the facts.

  3. That leads to my last point - what's the purpose of red light cameras? If the intent is to make our streets safer then how are we really measuring that? Sure the 15,000 number sounds like we aren't doing a good job at all. What about number of cameras? Yellow times, timing indicators, enforcement of the traffic act? If the intent is to keep our streets safer then red light cameras are a tool (a rather ineffective tool if you ask me) that MUST be used in coordination with other efforts and that's human enforcement. Public education, driver tests (re-testing if needed), spot checks, blitz etc... you can't rely on technology alone.

Let's have a better discussion about traffic safety. Do uniformed police officers HAVE to be the ones enforcing routine traffic act issues? Does the City HAVE to look at changing yellow timing and signal timing to calm the flow of traffic? Do motorists HAVE to re-take driving tests every 5 years? Do cyclists HAVE to obey the traffic act - and are enforced - with the same effort as motorists?

Anything less validates the criticism of this technology being a cash-cow.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted May 23, 2014 at 23:55:19 in reply to Comment 101506

Cars run red lights at 4 KPH? Really? What the hell are you blabbering about? Just trying to prove that you have NO reading comprehension?

So many questions and so few answers. I think your just our to lunch, again.

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By what you said (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 00:49:03 in reply to Comment 101584

"Slowing a car down to 3 or 4 KPH and "running" red light is far removed from ignoring a light altogether."

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 19:48:44

This is terrible driving. Calling it a cash grab is moot. There should be more red light cameras through out the city. If people are going to drive poorly, the least they should do is pay financially. Thank goodness they didn't kill someone, they should be glad all they have to pay is a fine. Maybe they will think twice and drive properly in the future.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 19:51:06 in reply to Comment 101534

No

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 19:55:17 in reply to Comment 101461

Maybe she should stop before the line and she wouldn't get that ticky. Don't make excuses, take responsibility for your actions.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 19:58:18 in reply to Comment 101463

Or you could just drive slower so you are able to stop properly without having to slam brakes or hammer gas.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 19:58:54 in reply to Comment 101476

Exactly.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 24, 2014 at 20:07:16 in reply to Comment 101509

If it was raining, that would mean even more reason to drive slower in anticipation of the light changing. Sounds like you need driving lessons. Start taking responsibility for your driving and make less excuses for it. You aren't supposed to time anything, drive accordingly.

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By Have 'em at every stoplight. (anonymous) | Posted May 25, 2014 at 19:54:39

They should be installed at every stoplight. No joke. I drive past multiple cameras in the city to and from my workplace (in a city which quite suprisingly does not have any red light cameras. You want insane? Try walking the crosswalks at Dixie and Eglington in Mississauga! The pedestrian buttons don't seem to work, the advance for cars turning left always trumps the walk light illuminating, and the don't walk flasher appears when you're halfway through the intersection. Bizarre!) and I've never had a ticket once.

I do like the intersections in our city that have the countdown timers. They work twofold - both for drivers and pedestrians, although inexplicably, the ones at Centennial and Queenston (running parallel to Queenston) count down to 0 far before the light changes.

I think that red light cameras should also catch those who make turns against the red where clearly marked (maybe they do that now, I don't know).

Thanks,

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By rrrandy (registered) - website | Posted May 26, 2014 at 18:03:47

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJju1CuGCDA You can skip to 3:30 or so to catch the "discussion" about red light runners: according the the police officer, it's cyclists!

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted May 27, 2014 at 12:37:50 in reply to Comment 101618

You completely ignored the actual reasoning behind this. Take responsibility for your reading comprehension.

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By Zach h. (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2015 at 03:45:41 in reply to Comment 101622

Honestly you don't even know what your talking about. With the shortened yellow lights in Hamilton it is impossible to make ia stop at that intersection if the yellow gets you at the right time. Regardless of the weather!

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